Posted on 21 April 2010.
Today is the anniversary of the Columbine Massacre, a day which in some way, haunts the psyches of all public school teachers. The numbers of the date, 4/20, became an occult code inscribed by youthful “insiders” on desks, books, backs of hands, etc. representing the lunatic fringe of human society. One of the most notorious of that group was Adolf Hitler whose birthdate is April 20, a date which again became nefarious when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire with semi-automatic rifles upon their unsuspecting classmates and faculty at Columbine High School located in suburban Denver, Colorado. One faculty member and twelve Columbine students were killed – probably before they even had a chance to comprehend what was happening – 23 others were wounded. Both of the killers took their own lives, upping the student mortality statistic to 14.
After that tragic incident, another number became paramount in America’s awareness – Emergency 911 – the magical number which will make everything all right. There are very few of us who don’t know the implications of calling 911 – an emergency has happened, sometimes a life-threatening one, and calling those three numbers often saves us from whatever threat we are facing.
I wonder how many of us visualize an emergency dispatch center and the faces of the individuals who take the 911 calls – not just a number, but living, breathing human beings who are dedicated to helping all who call, regardless of their status in life. These persons often internalize the fright and pain of their callers and give their all to alleviate the danger their callers are facing. When they are unable to succeed at saving the life of an infant, or to help someone find a lost hiker or kidnap victim, their pain is as real as their very humanity. It would be hard to imagine how the emergency responders suffered on April 20, 1999, and how many nightmares have awakened them from their sleep years later.
My husband, Harold, and I are attending the Citizens Academy sponsored by the Cassia County Sheriff’s Department. We spent last Saturday night “shadowing” two of these incredible responders. Their names are DeAnn Taylor and Donna Headley, and I would add that these are the names of two heroines who courageously follow the procedures expected of all 911 responders – to save their callers from the fear they are experiencing, and to essentially save lives. In many cases, the caller’s fear is paralyzing, preventing them from responding effectively to the emergency which has befallen them.
Both women agree that the first action they must take is to calm down the caller so that their directions, many times to allow CPR to be administered to a dying person – often, a child – can be followed successfully. The emotions of the responders run high, and they must overcome them in order to be effective with their responses – to keep their cool and to give the correct directions.
Sometimes, several calls come in at once, and the dispatchers are hard-pressed to respond to each of them in a timely manner. Donna speaks of giving CPR directions to the mothers of two infants – both calling from different locales. Both babies had stopped breathing. And typically, calls were coming in from deputies reporting their activities which the two dispatchers must also monitor effectively. Donna’s eyes tear up as she tells of the sadness she carries with her – she was able to save one of the babies, but the other being transported to the hospital in the mother’s car died. A terrible choice, but one which is always a possibility for these two women. They don’t accept defeat well – the pain lingers after the incident has become a matter of record.
The Dispatch Center has an incredible array of electronic displays – maps, files of names and license numbers, criminal records – all information necessary to make a quick response to deputies who have made traffic stops, or to searchers who are trying to locate a lost hiker or a victim of a crime.
But sometimes, these electronic marvels can’t equal the instincts of a trained dispatcher. DeAnn says that there have been many times when she has to figure out an answer to these queries from her own resources – a gut response, so to speak, but based on long and varied experience with human vulnerability. Both women agree that they give their “all” in any circumstance, hoping that will be enough to rescue the person who calls 911.
The number 911 is a vital part of our survival inventory, but DeAnn and Donna are the human equation which makes that number work. We should never forget who they are and what they do. They answer the ring of the phone – “911!”